On Receiving a Brief

I have never had to think about the channels of communication that brings design from problem identification to final product. I have read about the design process; about identifying the problem, collecting observations, prototyping, gathering feedback, more prototyping, more feedback. I have read about how the client can sometimes be something of an obnoxious roadblock to designers getting work done properly, imposing budget, deadlines, and their own opinions on the project (click the link — it’s hilarious). But I have never really thought about the very beginning of the process, before this whole process has begun and when the designer is first hired.

The brief we received in class yesterday opened up a whole new host of potential communication issues I can now imagine happening in a project. The most salient one, to me, was layered and complex but can be identified through one root issue: the identification of a problem to be answered. What is the designer’s role when the client has identified a problem that doesn’t exist? In our case, it felt as though the client was eager to find a student concern that matched with the ideal solution of reappropriating the D1 cafeteria for casual student use. It’s certainly a noble cause, and I have no reason to believe that anything other than a hope to improve student life is motivating it. But without a survey or widespread data collection, the client had already selected several (conflicting) issues to address in one space, before consulting a designer with a trained eye for problem solving.

It certainly makes sense. Clients work intimately with the people and places they do. In an ideal world, the would know the design issues better than anyone else and have the responsibility to communicate them to a designer only for a professional solution. But in this case, it is possible that the design question was a backhanded justification for the “solution,” and in any case is only colloquially researched and therefore has room for misdiagnosis.

The issue then complicates itself when the client, having identified what they believe the design question to be, moves forward with specific solution design to identify said question. There is an emotional attachment to this type of preliminary design work that causes someone to only bring in an architect — a trained design professional — in the final stages of the project as a consultant for structural soundness and local building code. What is the ethical duty of a designer who comes in late to the project and is expected to carry out the work that the client has already done, based on an issue, or many issues, that may not exist? This semester will be a careful dance between doing right by the design process and honoring these thoughtful designs by the client, and I hope to learn a lot about the questions I have asked in this blog post.

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